Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Because of Her with Grace Chang

I may be too lazy to be a good blogger BUT I was inspired by YTSL's post on the films of Wong Tin Lam to dig a DVD off my shelf that had been sitting there for almost two years (!).

So, I finally watched the Panorama DVD of Because of Her with Grace Chang and, while the DVD is one of the worst I've seen in some time (looks like a widescreen print that was cut to fit a standard TV; the top of the screen in some scenes is chopped off; colors actually flash in another!), the film is quite engaging and Grace Chang is delightful.

On the surface, the film is like Blue Skies with Peter Chen and Cheng Pei Pei: both concern the backstage dramas, and romances, of a musical troupe, and both use the musical productions that the troupe performs to accentuate, and reflect, the emotions of the main characters.

Needless to say, the Cathay production of Because of Her (1963) does not have quite the budget of the later Shaw production (perhaps a better treatment on DVD would have allowed a viewer such as myself to see more of the production values in the musical numbers).

However, the direction was assured and Grace Chang is far more natural as a performer than someone like Linda Lin Dai, in my opinion.

The scene where she revs up the tempo of a song during her audition into a rock beat is simply fantastic. I was hooked from that point on.

And the direction is good for the time -- there are a few nearly wordless sequences that work perfectly -- the scene after the producer/conductor proposes to Meixin (Grace Chang) is very touching as she thinks he expects her to sleep with him and he simply gathers his blanket and pillow to retire to another room like a gentleman. Grace's expressions convey a range of emotions in a matter of seconds: shock to resignation to admiration. I think in some ways scenes like this are better than the larger budgeted productions of the Shaw Brothers at the same time.

The musical numbers are sometimes silly -- the angels and devils one, in particular, and the dancers carrying John F. Kennedy posters in another -- but Grace Chang gives it her all and stands out from the crowd in every number.

Wong Tin Lam went on to father Wong Jing and is best known for his roles in films such as Election.

As soon as I catch up on my unopened Shaw DVDs, I think I'll catch up on more of the Cathay re-issues and I hope the DVDs are of better quality than this one.

But, at the rate I'm going, I may not get to them for a few more years! Ha!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Puffy Amiyumi CD!

I finally got my Puffy Amiyumi CD in the mail from YesAsia (side-note: I LOVE YesAsia BUT why did this CD with regular First Class shipping take longer than the free shipping I usually get when I order over $25 worth of DVDs?) and I thoroughly enjoy it.

Puffy's new album, Honeycreeper, has a slightly harder sound than their last few albums -- seemed that way to me -- and guitars buzz on a few tracks harder than in the past -- lead single, "Oriental Diamond," opens with a rockabilly riff worthy of mid-1990's-era Morrissey.

Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish is not on the album but there are contributions from The Merrymakers, Rooney, and Butch Walker.

You can order the Korean version of the CD here as it is almost half the price of the Japanese edition.

The video for "Oriental Diamond" is below...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Royle Family

I feel like an anthropolgist watching it, but The Royle Family remains one of my favorite sitcoms ever. Part of me watches the show as some kind of representation of Northern England, specifically Manchester.

And it is.

And another part of me simply enjoys it and relates to it in very universal ways.

But what started out as a kind of gimmick -- each episode in almost real time as the family watches TV together in their home in Manchester -- turned into a touching and very real experience.

Simply: I went from laughing at the family to laughing with them.

And I suppose -- I hope -- that in class-conscious England, millions more did the same thing.

The original The Office failed (a bit) in its second season for this same reason; the first season was scary and funny-but-painful with David Brent being an idiot worth lampooning; The second season humanized Brent and -- while a great sitcom still light years better than many American shows -- the show suffered in my opinion.

I enjoyed laughing atBrent in Series 1 but didn't particularly want to laugh with him in Series 2 (though I did enjoy it).

The old rule of thumb about illustrating the universal through specificity is exemplified perfectly in the best Royle Family episodes. These half-hours take uniquely Mancunian characters and make them recognizable to this Yank in America.

The show never sold out by pandering to a wide audience and, yet, I think that most people could enjoy it (though some of the accented dialogue stumps even this Anglophile -- thank goodness for subtitles).

Which leads me to The Queen of Sheba.

After 3 series of 6 episodes each, along with some Christmas specials, the Royle Family returned in 2006 for an hour-long finale.

This special episode was the first thing I watched yesterday after receiving my reasonably priced UK box set (thank goodness for all region DVD players).

You can order it here.

At first, the fact that The Queen of Sheba does not take place in real time -- dissolves are used, some scenes obviously not taking place on the same day -- and that the episode is the first one to have major scenes outside the Royle home, was hard to get used to.

But I thought the episode was the perfect way for the show to end -- it works well by itself when viewed outside the other 3 seasons -- and it had emotional resonance for me.

I do not think that this episode will hold up for repeat viewings in the same way that many of the other episodes do. But, I could not have envisioned a better way for the show to end. It felt like this family had grown in believable ways with only one joke seeming too obvious (involving Cheryl's date -- hysterically funny but it felt a touch too obvious and unlikely next to the rest of the show's usual realism)

And the scenes with Geoffrey Hughes as Twiggy and Jessica Stevenson as Cheryl near the end of this final episode were perfectly understated, both funny and touching simultaneously.

Trivia: Creator and star Caroline Aherne was at one time married to Peter Hook of New Order and Ralf Little, who plays her brother on the show, played Hooky in the film 24 Hour Party People.

Here's a clip from an early episode with the Oasis song included:

Let's Dance to Joy Division

You know, if this band was American, I would probably hate them for a song like this.

But, they manage to take what seems an arched-eyebrow-ironic-kind-of-title-that-looks-good-in-an-ad-in-the-NME and turn it into a song that actually moved me.

American indie/alternative rockers frequently gets lost in the kitschy elements, overdo them, and then smirk in place or producing a good, memorable pop song.

But something like this, which has those same elements, actually has a hook and decent lyrics and some wit (see also The Pipettes).

"Let's Dance to Joy Division"

I can hear some similarities to The Young Knives but these guys have more energy.

The rest of the album is quite good -- not a masterpiece, not even as good as the first Arctic Monkeys album -- but still worth ordering from overseas.

Of course, I am Mr. Tolerant when it comes to new British bands.

A lifetime of reading Melody Maker and NME and sometimes believing the hype has done that to me.

And they are Scousers so that is a plus in my book (even if I think The Coral and The Zutons are usually overrated, but that's another post).

Also check out the insanely catchy, "Backfire At The Disco"

Saturday, November 3, 2007

"Sister, I'm a Poet" -- Morrissey, Live in DC, 11/02/07

I finally saw Morrisey live. After missing the Smiths when they played this area in 1986, and then not bothering to see Morrissey on his earlier solo tours, I ventured out with two good friends to see Morrissey at DAR Constitution Hall, last night, November 02, 2007.

There were films playing on a huge screen in front of the stage before the concert (we missed the opening act). And it was a pleasure to see some great New York Dolls footage on a big screen, along with an Alan Bates film clip which I am ashamed I could not identify, and an old music video from Brigitte Bardot which I think was a Serge Gainsbourg song: "Bubble Gum."

Under a triptych backdrop of an impossibly young Richard Burton, Morrissey was absolutely perfect -- voice in fine form -- HOWEVER, the sound in the hall was atrocious. I don't mind loud concerts and Morrissey and his band were not as loud as Cheap Trick in 1997 in Baltimore, or my first Dio concert in 2000, but it was almost impossible for me to make out the songs until Morrissey started to sing -- and these were mainly songs I know by heart -- I don't know if it was due to being too close -- we were less than 14 rows back from the front of the stage, to Morrissey's left -- but I don't think so; I think the sound is just bad in this hall.

But then again, I've not been to this venue since I saw (and met) The Bangles in 1989 and then before that in 1984 when I saw Lou Reed and The Swimming Pool Q's.

But I am still quite happy at the fact that I finally got to see Morrissey do "Sister, I'm A Poet" and "Billy Budd" and "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" and "Stretch Out and Wait" and "How Soon is Now?" live in person.

And this 40-year-old aging indie/alt-rocker did find tears welling up as Morrissey delivered the recent "Dear God Please Help Me."

If only I had been able to rush the stage -- bravo to those who did -- but the security people were really cracking down on people moving up to the front rows -- I could see people being ushered up the aisle by the bouncers after trying to creep up into the first few rows.

Still, an amazing show in many ways. I just hope that if Morrissey tours in 2008, hopefully he will play a better venue -- Lisner at George Washington University or the 930 Club, perhaps.

(link to some good photos by a professional photographer on Flickr: here. And the photo above is thanks to Leafblower, and he's also on Flickr.)